While most people use their laundry rooms to wash and dry their clothes, James Thorne uses his to plant and sprout 1,500 acorns that will grow into valley oak trees.
“If you go driving around between here and Woodland, you’ll see big, gigantic trees out in the fields – those are valley oaks,“ said Thorne, a research scientist for the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy.
The reason Thorne has been growing acorns in his house for the past six years, he said, is because oak trees need his help. Due to the loss of land for housing in the Central Valley, native vegetation and valley oaks are being removed.
Thorne noticed that there hasn’t been much recruitment among many oak trees, and that there are no “teenager“ oaks.
“For some reason, there are problems in the reproduction of these trees that have to do with surviving the youngest phase,” he said. “One way to help is to grow trees from acorns to get them through that phase and then get them planted.“
Thorne has been involved with the UC Davis chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology to grow and plant acorns on the UCD campus and around the Davis community. He believes oak trees are the single most important genus for wildlife and that efforts should be made to grow them in North America.
“Acorns are grub, the one-stop shop for lots of species,” he said. “From insects to birds – literally hundreds of species depend on oaks. In our region, it’s valley oaks.“
Thorne, who has a doctorate in ecology, was born in Boston and raised on the East Coast, as well as in North Africa. He’d been interested in environmental issues since high school and decided to venture to California to pursue an undergraduate degree in environmental science.
He earned a bachelor of science degree from UC Santa Cruz before working as a biological field technician for the next 10 years, a job that allowed him to combine backpacking with getting paid. He worked for many national parks in California and Alaska while practicing his guitar and mandolin.
Thorne finally went back to school for what he calls “more punishment” and earned a master’s degree in geography at UC Santa Barbara. He came to UC Davis in 1998 to pursue a doctorate in ecology.
Thorne said what first sparked his interest in acorns and oak trees was a gigantic oak tree at the intersection of Fifth and Oak streets.
“It had dropped hundreds of shiny, beautiful acorns,“ he said. “I just filled up my pockets. I didn’t even think about why I was doing it.“
Thorne found a booklet at the UCD Bookstore the next day about the hows and whys of planting acorns. According to the booklet, titled “Regenerating Rangeland Oaks in California,“ injury to seedlings can be prevented by keeping them from drying up, heating up, or freezing.
To plant an oak tree, Thorne said, you start by first collecting an acorn and putting it in a shallow tray with sand. After it sprouts and grows roots, dig a hole in the soil about two to three feet deep. Transplant the acorn roots into the hole and you’ve just given the roots a jumpstart to ground water.
Over 100 seedlings have been planted on campus and each has potential to grow over 80 feet tall and 60 feet wide.
In addition to using oak trees as a natural habitat and food source for animals, Thorne said, they can be used as shade to reduce cooling costs.
“We can plant them close to buildings and train them to throw shade on the building,” he said. “It’s not quite like training a dog, but you would essentially trim the branches into the shape that you want it to take to grow next to a building.“
Thorne’s project has been successful over the years, and he will continue to work with organizations such as TreeDavis and the Woodland Tree Foundation. These groups plant valley oaks along Highway 113.
Ryan Boynton, a UCD graduate, said he enjoyed working on the project and that it’s cool to see how the trees grow bigger every time he comes back.
“I got involved because I like how the campus looks and it’s nice to have native trees that will help support the native ecosystem and provide shade for people who go here,” Boynton said.
Thorne also gives away nearly 1,000 oak trees each year for anyone who would like to have one. For your very own oak tree, Thorne said to check back with him in the fall. He’ll have grown them in his laundry room ready for you to take home.
To help grow and plant acorns, contact Thorne at email@example.com.
For more information, visit sbc.ucdavis.edu.
THUY TRAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX